Chavez more than just a day off
By Brian Clapp
Published: Monday, April 5, 2004
Ruben Alonzo has a vision for this state.
Wednesday, I caught up with Alonzo at Dos Gringos, to hear about his vision. Alonzo, a political science senior and City of Phoenix intern had the day off to honor Cesar Chavez, famous Arizonan and civil rights hero for millions. Like the City of Tempe, Phoenix gave its employees the day off to honor Chavez's legacy. The state of Arizona, however, does not seem to give the same credence to Chavez, and that is something Alonzo wants to change.
Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers union, fought for labor rights for millions of migrant farm workers, and Alonzo thinks it is a travesty that more respect is not paid to Chavez in this state.
He noted that, "The City of Phoenix recognizes the Cesar Chavez holiday ... but not Yuma, the place where Chavez was born." Alonzo, who is from Yuma, added, "Chavez is a famous civil rights and labor leader, and the most influential person to come from Yuma, and [there's] not even a statue or a street or anything" named in his honor.
Like Alonzo, I think this is certainly something that needs to change. Arizona needs to honor Chavez with a statewide paid holiday, not merely with a few small pockets of tribute. A man whose life work was dedicated to improving the lives of millions of farm workers should not be taken for granted.
Pima County has had a paid Chavez holiday for years. So has the entire state of California. And I believe that it is vitally important that this state give Chavez and the people of Arizona their due.
Tempe Councilman Ben Arredondo agrees. He recently told The Arizona Republic that a paid Chavez holiday "sends a message in the Southwest that the principles he stood for are valued. And I think you'll start to see other cities begin to do this, too."
A coalition of Arizona citizens believes strongly enough in Chavez's principles to push for a Chavez holiday ballot initiative. Arizona United, a group headed by 20-year-old Jim Lugo, filed paperwork the week before the Chavez holiday to begin collecting signatures to get a measure on the statewide ballot.
Lugo, a Glendale Community College student, originally formed the group to push for a proposition to keep Arizona bars open later, but once the Legislature picked up the ball to push back the clock, he decided to fight to honor Chavez instead.
And he certainly has his work cut out for him. He has less than three months to gather the 122,612 signatures necessary to place an initiative on the ballot. I have no shortage of respect, however, for the effort he plans to put forth.
Cesar Chavez's battles were not merely about farm workers. They were about basic rights for all people, be they picking grapes in California or going to school right here in Tempe. It doesn't matter whether you are a farm worker, or even a Latino. The issue affects all of us, because of the humanity that links us together. If you'd never heard of Chavez until today, realize that his legacy is one that all of us in Arizona can be proud of, and one that we should take pains to recognize.
The fight for a Chavez holiday is not merely one for another day off. It is a fight to recognize those among us who have truly made a difference, and who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of others.
And it's certainly one worth waging.
Brian Clapp is a biology and political science senior. For more information on the Chavez Holiday ballot initiative, email firstname.lastname@example.org.